The equation is simple for Tampines Rovers when they take to the pitch on Saturday evening to face Brunei DPMM: they have to win to stay in the title race.
As such, the pressure is all on the Stags, but they can only blame themselves for falling into such a predicament.
Tampines’ back-to-back league defeats to Hougang United and Home United means Albirex Niigata (S) now have a seven-point lead at the top of the table with just four matches to go. That gap could well be extended to double digits, should the White Swans win their clash against Warriors FC on Friday.
The only hope Tampines Rovers have now is to win all their remaining league matches of the season, starting against DPMM, while hoping the White Swans drop points along the way until the final day of the season, when both title contenders face each other.
Thankfully recent form suggests the Stags have the upperhand in this clash. In 12 league meetings since 2012, the Bruneians have emerged triumphant just once, which came in May last year, the year they won the league title.
Apart from that, it is only in cup matches that DPMM have tasted success against Tampines.
Still, DPMM will come into the game riding a six-game unbeaten run, which is the best they have managed all season. On the other hand, Tampines look like they are suffering from a burn-out, having played a total of 39 games already in all competitions this year. In comparison, DPMM have only faced 29 games so far.
It will be interesting to see if Tampines can cope with both the pressure and fatigue on Saturday.
Both Billy Mehmet and Hafiz Sujad are suspended for the match against Brunei DPMM and the duo, who have been immaculate for the Stags this season, will be big losses.
On the other hand, DPMM’s Maududi Hilmi and Rosmin Kamis will be missing through suspension. It is also unclear if Paulo Sergio will return after he sat out the game against the Young Lions on Monday.
Scoring goals hasn’t been an issue for Tampines Rovers this year. Instead, it is keeping them out at their own end that has been a problem. In their last eight matches, they have only kept a clean sheet once.
Against DPMM, they will come up against Rafael Ramazotti, a player who has scored five times in eight matches against the Stags since joining the Wasps in 2015.
With so much at stake on Saturday they will need to keep Ramazotti quiet and the task is likely to fall to Tampines captain Mustafic. Commanding in the air and possessing a fine reading of the game, Mustafic will be well-equipped to deal with the Brazilian targetman.
By all accounts, Akbar Nawas has done a decent job with the Stags this year. For a rookie coach to come in halfway through the season and guide Tampines to the Singapore Cup final, the AFC Cup quarter-finals and stay in the hunt for the S.League title is certainly commendable.
But as the saying goes only winners will be remembered in history, so it will all be for naught if Akbar fails to guide Tampines to a trophy this year.
On the other hand, Steve Kean will be keen to spoil the title race for Tampines. After all, the Stags have won both meetings in the league between them this season, and Kean will be looking to avoid a hattrick of defeats to the same team.